September HAH Site Visits

23 Sep 2022, by Admin in Harvest Blog, Harvest VISTA, Farm to Food Pantry, Harvest Against Hunger

Harvest Against Hunger works as a connector and community collaborator to identify, address, and support the implementation of local efforts towards sustainable food systems, community food security, and reduction of food waste. Harvest Against Hunger houses programs, such as Farm to Community (F2C) and the Harvest VISTA program, who help facilitate these connections and community collaborations. The Farm to Community team, composed of Farm to Community Program Director- Maddie Price and Farm to Community Program Specialist- Nyree Hodges, work together to coordinate, maintain, and build upon the programs under Farm to Community umbrella: Farm to Food Pantry (F2FP), King County Farmer’s Share, and the Growing for Good Partnerships. The Harvest VISTA team includes Program Director- Maria Mendez-Francisco and the current serving Harvest VISTA Leader- Marie-Yvonne Chase. The Harvest VISTA program teams up to coordinate the sponsorship of an AmeriCorps VISTA service program that partners with local and nationwide organizations working towards food system sustainability goals and building organizational capacity.

This September, the Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) teams– Farm to Community and Harvest VISTA– put together a two day road trip to visit a few partnership sites. This site visit had the Harvest VISTA team checking in with Harvest VISTA member Bethany Brown in the southeastern Washington town of Walla Walla. Along the way, stops were made in Ellensburg and Yakima, where Farm to Community partners with food banks and food pantries through the Farm to Food Pantry Program. 

To start the road trip, the HAH staff conducted their first site visit at Friends in Service to Humanity (FISH) in Ellensburg. The gracious team at FISH’s Food Bank and Open Table gave the team a tour and run down of their operations. Executive Director- Peggy Morache and the Food Bank and Food Pantry Manager- Richard Reynolds, met the HAH team at their combined food pantry and food bank facility- the start of the informational tour. During the tour of the facility, Peggy and Richard discussed the intentionality behind their set-up of the food pantry, the logistics of the food bank, and future food bank expansion planning. At the end of the tour, the Farm to Community team was given the opportunity to learn more about the communities they are serving and about the different impacts the food bank has had on the community. To get a rounded view of their food security efforts, Richard and Peggy invited the team to their Open Table location to participate in FISH’s lunch meal program.

L to R: Nyree, Maddie, Maria, Peggy, and Elise standing outside FISH in Ellensburg, WA.
L to R: Maddie, Maria, Bethany, Erik, Nyree, and Sonu (canine mascot)

Open Table is a community meal service and program that is housed within a building that was previously a barbecue restaurant. In addition to the lunch service at Open Table, this location also facilitates FISH’s meals on wheels programs. Walking into the dark blue building, there is an immediate feeling of family dining and community- with the long, patron filled tables and welcoming meal service volunteers. Participating in the lunch program at Open Table was a wonderful opportunity to get to know how FISH is addressing food insecurity with Kittitas County’s vulnerable populations and how it nurtures community gatherings with food. The HAH team had a chance to sit down with community members who access Open Table services and learned about how this has become a hub of community for the Ellensburg patrons. During lunch conversations, it became evident the immense impact of this community space. 

Last stop on the first day was Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) in Walla Walla, Washington. BMAC partners with Harvest Against Hunger in an overlapping way by being a part of the Farm to Community’s Farm to Food Pantry Program and Harvest VISTA program. The first day of visiting BMAC included a Farm to Community team meeting with Interim Food Bank Director- Erik Mora and Harvest VISTA- Bethany Brown at the BMAC Food Bank. Erik gave the team a tour of the facility and provided an in depth look into how Farm to Food Pantry funding has been implemented and built capacity at the food bank. Erik highlighted the community involvement and reputation that Blue Mountain Action Council has as a multi-service organization. To give the HAH team insight to one of their partner farms embedded in the Walla Walla community, Erik arranged for a farm visit at Frog Hollow Farm with Farm Manager- Noah Dybdahl.

Largely sought after Frog Hollow Farm tomatoes

Frog Hollow Farm is a wonder to come upon- the beautiful array of flower “U-Pick” rows, the barn red store, and the fields filled with fragrant varieties of produce, herbs, and animals.  Frog Hollow is a farm with a focus in community open space curation and local food cultivation. Frog Hollow partners with BMAC Food Bank to help with providing fresh, local produce for the community members that access their services. The Farm to Food Pantry program works to facilitate these partnerships by providing funding to purchase the local produce. Farm Manager- Noah Dybdahl spoke with the HAH team about how the Frog Hollow Farm’s services and operations, their tomato yields this year, and how they are planning for the future. Through this tour, the HAH team got to know the community partners that support local food system sustainability and how Farm to Food Pantry funding is being utilized in the Walla Walla area.

On the second day, the Harvest VISTA program met with Interim Food Bank Director- Erik Mora and Harvest VISTA member- Bethany Brown to go over an AmeriCorps VISTA program site visit. During this visit, the Program Director and Harvest VISTA Leader gained knowledge on programming structure, learned how the AmeriCorps member ties in with BMAC, reviewed AmeriCorps expectations, and addressed any questions about the program. This meeting was a good conclusion to the team’s time in Walla Walla and it gave the HAH team a chance to build deeper relationships with their primarily remote partners.

As the HAH teams headed back to Seattle, they managed one final site visit at Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) in Yakima, Washington. They met with Program Director- Haydee Barbosa at the Food Bank where Haydee hosted a tour around their facility. Haydee dove into how their pantry services have changed since COVID, how they utilize part of the warehouse for energy assistance programs, and the scale at which their operations run. OIC in Yakima participates in Farm to Food Pantry and Harvest VISTA programs, and the site visit illuminated the impacts that those programs have had on the food security and access in the Yakima community.

Site visits are a crucial component for Harvest Against Hunger as it allows HAH to connect with and get a deeper understanding of partnerships around the state of Washington. It is beneficial for Harvest Against Hunger, who is naturally a layered removed, to hear stories and visualize how funding and other allocations intertwine with the communities it partners within. Finally, it provides a way to build deeper and more intentional relationships with the Washington food system network.

L to R: Nyree, Marie-Yvonne, Tania, Monica, Haydee, Maddie, and Maria
Maddie and Maria holding Frog Hollow Farm's beautiful tomatoes.
Sonu, the HAH current mascot, excited for their first Harvest Against Hunger site visit trip!